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Alternative fuel is a load of crap… or at least that’s the Detroit Zoo’s plan


The Detroit Zoo is taking something all zoos have a lot of … animal fecal matter … and turning it into something no one seems to have enough of … energy.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has teamed with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to turn use an energy-producing biodigester to turn that waste into something more useful … compost and methane-rich gas (biogas). That’s the power of poo.

Through the Michigan-based crowdfund platform Patronicity, the DZS plan to raise $55,000 in funds by June 1. If this goal can be met it will be matched by a grant from the MDEC. For project details and to donate, visit

“We are pleased to partner with the Detroit Zoo and support this eco-friendly, energy-saving project,” said MEDC Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki.  “This campaign will allow residents, businesses and everyone who appreciates the zoo and the positive impact it has on metro Detroit to be a part of this innovative undertaking.”

There is plenty of “product” … 400 tons of manure from all animal types big and small is produced at the zoo in the course of a year.  The biodigester will turn this mass into methane-rich gas.  All that power already has a planned home. It will help power the 18,000- sq.-ft. Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. That adds up to a $70,000 -$80,000 savings a year in energy costs for the zoo.

A gorilla gets  cardiac ultrasound at the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex

A gorilla gets cardiac ultrasound at the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex

The system will also convert manure into compost that will be used to fertilize animal habitats, gardens and public spaces throughout the 125-acre zoo.

“The biodigester will turn one of our most abundant resources – manure – into energy, and represents a significant step on our green journey,” said Ron Kagan, DZS executive director and CEO.

project_505_body_TLT_Photo31As an added plus the biodigester will also be a resource for the DZS’s environmental education programming for K-12 students. It will also provide internship opportunities for post-secondary students in environmental sciences and engineering.

Construction of the biodogester begins this spring in the administrative area and should be wrapped up by fall. Once completed this will be the first zoo-based system of its kinds in the country.

Here’s how it works. The anaerobic digestion (the proper name) takes biomass (plant and animal materials) and breaks it down with micro-organisms in the absence of air.  Once placed inside a sealed container, naturally occurring micro-organisms release methane-rich gas as they digest the biomass.  The gas produced can then be used for heat and power, cutting the need for fossil fuels.  What is left makes an excellent nutrient rich fertilizer.

This is only one of the initiatives taken by the DZS’s Greenprint to improve daily practices and facilities, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy in the community. The zoo’s energy goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity and natural gas use by 20% below 2009 baseline levels by the end of 2015, and to become entirely zero-waste by 2020. In 2014 the Association of Zoos and Aquariums honored the DZS with a Green Award for its drive to continuously improve sustainability.

For project details and to donate, visit



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3 comments on “Alternative fuel is a load of crap… or at least that’s the Detroit Zoo’s plan

  1. Since the 1970s, America's fuel imports have almost tripled. The country is now importing over 12 million barrels of crude oil a day. That's just over half of the oil we are currently using in America — over 20 million barrels a day. The majority of this fuel is going to power transportation, most of which is used in consumer motor vehicles. The more America increases its dependence on petroleum, the faster oil reserves become depleted. We are only decades away from the point at which there is too little petroleum left to make gasoline a feasible fuel. Americans cringe at $4.00 per gallon gas prices, but cringe is all we do. We continue to pay the asking price for the only fuel that can make our cars run. But what happens at $10.00, or $25.00 per gallon? The rate that gas prices have raised in the past couple years show us that these extremes are chillingly close [1].

    While several fuel alternatives have begun to show promise, they all seem to also have distinct drawbacks. Some fuel alternatives could be too costly to become a commercially viable alternative to gasoline. Other more cost effective fuels do not appear to meet the range of requirements demanded by consumers. Few of these sources currently appear to be capable of matching the energy output of gasoline. Best estimates suggest that within 40 years, crude oil resources will be sufficiently depleted as to render gasoline commercially unviable. It is crucial that we quickly find an acceptable replacement for gasoline.

    In addition, it takes no stretch of the imagination to understand what levels of pollution are being created by our nation's oil addiction. One only has to look at the skies above New York City or Los Angeles to see where we have come in past century of automotive transportation. It is easy to see that alternative fuels will be needed very shortly to replace gasoline. Still, it is equally important that the next fuel we rely on does nothing more to pollute the environment. In the best-case scenario, our next national fuel should assist in alleviating our current levels of pollution.

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